Barack Obama Leadership
Barack Obama (1961- )
The first African American president (pictured right).
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
His popularity has fallen since his re-election in 2012, partly due to his controversial health care reforms
(helping poorer Americans) .
What is his leadership based
In his Inaugural Address he said his vision for America requires “a new era of
responsibility” in which everyone must work hard to overcome its problems.
Deeply affected by the African American struggle for civil rights, his ideals are justice and morality reflected
in his favourite things:
- philosophers (particularly Reinhold Niebuhr, pictured right
above, who emphasized the importance of social justice for oppressed workers and blacks).
- leaders (like Martin Luther
King, pictured right, who said, “Power at best is love implementing the demands of justice”, one
of Obama’s favourite quotes).
Telegenic, eloquent and charismatic, he communicates his vision and policies brilliantly. His winning slogan for
the presidency was simply “Yes we can”.
3. Empowerment and motivation
Obama realizes he can’t do anything without the American people.
So his presidential campaigns gained people’s support via the Internet and an army of
Obama (pictured right in the 2012 presidential election) gets the best from people through:
- listening to them, accepting their good ideas (however junior they are) and
encouraging constructive debate through aggressive questioning (his aim, he says, is “to disagree without being
- immediate feedback and praise.
- sensitivity (he sees himself as a servant leader dedicated to serving people’s
- high expectations (expecting the best possible performance).
Obama is a:
- man of principle (having always opposed the Iraq War).
- devout Christian with a strong sense of responsibility.
But he doesn’t let dogma and ideology stop him doing the right thing (see point 5).
- has great compassion and humility, accepting his limitations and mistakes.
- is honest and calm in a crisis, earning the nickname ‘No drama Obama’.
- makes time for his family (wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and
Sasha ,pictured right)
- overcame the psychological scar of his father’s desertion in 1963, when he cried at his
grave in Kenya.
Obama has been driven to fulfil his father’s expectations and make up for his mistakes.
He wants government that is driven not by ideology but by finding practical solutions to problems like the
economy, terrorism and climate change.
He said in his First Inaugural Address (pictured with his wife Michelle at the inauguration in 2009):
“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small but whether it
6. Constant learning
He learnt about people’s problems as a young community worker in the poor South Side of
Chicago, where his wife, Michelle, grew up.
He is also a great listener, learning from others (particularly Michelle, his advisers, other
politicians and friends like Oprah
Winfrey ,pictured right in 2009).
He has also been deeply affected by his Christian faith and his minister in Chicago, Jeremiah
Wright (pictured right below), who coined the phrase “the audacity of
hope” that became the title of Obama’s book.
He also learns from:
a) quiet reflection.
b) constructive debate.
c) mistakes and failures (including his disastrous attempt to become a Congressman in 1999
when he was seen as “elitist”).
7. Unity of purpose
He is determined to unite America. Like his hero, Abraham Lincoln (pictured right), Obama:
a) called for “a divided house to stand together”
b) included in his Cabinet his biggest political rival, Hilary Clinton .
He has a brilliant intellect (studying law at Harvard, where Michelle
The sharpness of his mind is helped by at least one hour’s daily exercise in the gym.
He also manages his time really well, prioritizing the big issues, his family and quiet
Obama (pictured right in his Oval Office with Hilary Clinton) has not only attention to detail
but also the ability to see the overall strategy.
Once he has worked out a strategy he sticks with it (as with his health care reforms) until circumstances
He has learned that his policies may have to be modified to gain maximum support (like his plans to fight
10. Tough but empathetic
Helped by his enormous self-belief, confidence and willpower, he is
tough enough to:
- make difficult decisions (like increasing troop numbers in
- discard people who are no longer useful to him.
- campaign and work with his political opponents
But he is also sensitive to other people’s needs, guided by his mother’s (pictured right)
principle: ‘how would that make you feel?’
Key quotes on
The audacity of hope! In the end that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation.
The true strength of our nation comes...from the power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and
There’s not a black America and a white America...there’s the United States of America
Key quote on success
It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential
Key quote on
Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition, it asks too little of yourself. And it
will leave you unfulfilled.
Key quote on
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting
for. We are the change that we seek.
Key quote on influencing
Greatness is never a given. It must be earned.
Key quote on
Society has a responsibility to give people the tools they need to succeed.
We have a stake in one another...what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart.
Key quote on climate
We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and
future generations (Second Inaugural Address, 2013)